Teachers from across Western New York have been questioning the political leadership of Mike Deely — whose short temper and gruff demeanor make him unsuitable for such a sensitive and pivotal leadership position, some have argued.
The Western region of NYSUT, the statewide lobbying group that is bankrolled by teachers’ union dues, has over 19,000 members in the eight counties of Western New York. Deely is the regional staff director, responsible for the advocacy group’s political spending — which last cycle was several hundred thousand dollars in a single State Senate race alone.
After Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes’ proposed a version of Mayoral control of the Buffalo Public Schools in April, Deely made public comments that were “raw, counterproductive, and undiplomatic” say observers. His public comments on Facebook and in private conversations created tensions with a longtime ally of the teachers’ unions.
Despite Peoples-Stokes willingness to move past the unfortunate situation, and public comments that she continues to be supportive of NYSUT, there are still hurt feelings and simmering tensions between the two, says a source close to the Assemblywoman.
“It’s big of Crystal to forgive, but I doubt she will forget,” says the source.
Supporters of Deely say that his “perhaps imperfect reaction” — in which he is rumored to have briefly been looking for primary candidates to challenge the Assemblywoman — was rooted in regret for not supporting Antoine Thompson in the last election cycle. Thompson is seen as being a more stalwart ally of teachers.
Others have criticized an excessively large staff that drains resources from organizing non-union charters and private schools — efforts which have been nonexistent in Deely’s western region, despite having 19 labor relations specialists, 6 organizers, 6 secretaries, an attorney, a benefits specialist, and a retiree consultant all on staff.
Deely has been a controversial figure in local Democrat politics, who see him as instigating divisive primary battles that have hurt the party. Most Democrats see value in charter schools, tuition tax credits, and other programs that give working class parents options to escape chronically underperforming schools.
To attack Democrats over their support of innovations in education is counter productive to improving education broadly, many Democrats argue. Whether or not Deely keeps his position will be, largely, up to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore, whose members bankroll Deely’s political spending.